Grenell 1881 - A Must Read This Summer

By: Susan W. Smith, Janet Smith Staples

Volume 14, Issue 7, July 2019

Lynn McElfresh has written over 130 articles for TI Life and when she began her monthly assignments she was already an accomplished writer having written two novels for middle-grade readers and as ghostwriter for five books for a popular girls’ series between 2005 and 2007. So hearing she was writing a adult novel was not a surprise.  

All winter I asked when I could get a copy and sure enough as soon as she arrived on Grenell Island for summer 2019 she left a copy for me in Clayton with my daughter, Janet Staples.

That is where I made my first mistake as daughter decided that this was one she wanted to read - and right then.  She was not at all disappointed and now it is my turn... But don't take our words for it. Grenell 1881, is a must read this summer.

Janet Staples reaction:  

I finished the book -- I didn't want it to end ! The final chapter wraps up with the end of the summer season and honestly it brought me right back to every year when we close up the house for the season - that last trip down to the dock and that last gaze out on the river as you turn and get in your car to drive away.
It was a great read from start to finish and I am looking forward to the second one in this series!
Excerpt: The catastrophe... 

Just a few observations:

 *Life on an island in 1881 was not as easy as it is today - but it was just as magical - adventurous - life changing & life affirming.
   *I could easily see the pristine beauty of the islands and hear the conversations of these rich characters - a simpler time as some would say - but I'm not so sure... Women had to wear corsets, big skirts and dresses, boots that cover most of the legs and the luxury of being self-sufficient women in those days was not often revered - (except perhaps when one is Rusticating in the Thousand Islands!)
Excerpt: Learning to row a skiff... Watch and listen...
  *We get to watch Marguerite fall in love with the islands - the people she encounters - and summer life on the river.
  *Her enthusiasm and confidence had me both laughing and cheering her on, as I was immersed in her world. Lynn takes us on a journey filled with adventure, humor, friendships and River stories.
Excerpt: Preparing for that inevitable summer storm...

Questions for author Lynn E. McElfresh

1.     Do you, as a kindred spirit, long for the day of pioneer women and no motors on boats? Or, do you value the washing machine, not rowing to Clayton, and a modern ice box?

Because our laundry room is underwater and our washing machine is out of commission, I decided to do laundry 19th century style last week. Yup! Got out a washboard and scrubbed away. I’m glad I did it because I learned first-hand what a long, tedious, and backbreaking job it is. No wonder it took one day to wash the clothes and a second day to iron them. But next time I do laundry, I’ll take up our neighbors' offer and use their washing machine.

I’m fascinated with the clothes, the food, and the language of the late 19th century. The idea of train travel, steamships, and using a skiff as my primary mode of transportation is very romantic. Actually, during my first five years on the River, a skiff was our only means of transportation. Perhaps because I’ve actually tried bits and pieces of a 19th century lifestyle, I’m grateful to be living in the 21st century. If I had to use a dip pen to handwrite my next manuscript, I probably would never finish it.

2.     Where did you get your history . . . are those people real?

While researching Grenell Island History for our Association’s 100th anniversary back in 2012, I discovered several online newspaper archives and I was hooked. Since that time, I spend most evenings trolling the newspaper archives for tantalizing tidbits. The old newspapers fuel my imagination.

What’s real and what’s not? I have a blog titled Thousand Islands Series Fact and Fiction, which will tell you just that. My primary purpose for writing Grenell 1881 was to help people imagine what it was like summering in the islands in the 1880s. I try to keep most of the settings, steamships, and boats as true to history as I can. The same for events; for instance, Walt Whitman really did stay at Hub House, only he was there in 1880 and not 1881. As I only write about one summer for each decade, I follow the grenade theory of events: if it’s within a year or two either way of 1881—its close enough. When it comes to characters, there’s a healthy mix of historical (real) characters and fictitious characters. My narrator, Marguerite Hartranft is 100% fictional, but many of the characters she rubs elbows with are historical figures such as Sam and Lucy Grenell, Captain Visger, and lighthouse keepers Foster and Angelina Drake.

3.     When, for goodness sake, is the next one coming?

Grenell 1881 is the first of a nine book series. Each book will represent one season of each decade from 1881 till 1961. The rough draft for the second book, Grenell 1893 is about 80% complete, so I’m fairly certain that it will be available by next season. If it keeps raining, I might be able to start and finish Grenell 1904, too.

About Lynn McElfresh

About: Hi! I’m Lynn McElfresh. I was born into a family of storytellers and married into a family with a story to tell. My husband’s Great-great Aunt Alice and Great-great Uncle Otis honeymooned on the island in 1875, and someone from his family has summered on the island without fail every summer since. I decided to write a fictional series for my kids, grandkids and people on the island to bring to life the years of 1881 – 1961.
The project seemed a natural for me. I love research, family history, island history and writing. Grenell 1881 is not my first novel. I’ve written two other novels for middle-grade readers. It’s also not my first series. I ghostwrote five books for a popular girls’ series between 2005 and 2007. I currently write for It seems everything in my life has been preparing me to write this series.

I now have Grenell 1881; it is on my nightstand.  Several page corners are turned down and there are small tabs sticking out.  They represent those passages that my daughter wanted me to be sure to read slowly. "You will recognize island life and smile often when you read them, Mum,"

Yes, Grenell 1881 is a must read for Summer 2019.

By Susan W. Smith, Editor, TI Life.


Fishers Landing: Chalks Marina in Fishers Landing.
Clayton: Raks, Michael Ringer Gallery and the Antique Boat Museum.
A-Bay: Cornwall Bros. Store.
Amazon (The price is slightly higher at Amazon)

River Skiff Press Presents

Be sure to join the Facebook page: Thousand Islands Series for descriptions that relate directly to Grenell 1881.  

Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 7, July 2019, Book review

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